As Said By


This entry posted on February 16th, 2011

Karen Walker has been nursing an affection for the Dexys Midnight Runners album Searching for the Young Soul Rebels for about 20 years. So it was probably inevitable that she would eventually tap the record for inspir­ation, as she has this season with great wit and charm. More specifically, Walker went deep into Young Soul Rebels’ homage to the Northern-soul scene that had its heyday in the mid-seventies.

It’s worth talking a bit about Northern soul, because Walker really used the reference. Every weekend, working-class young people would swarm the dance floors at clubs across Northern Britain, the most famous of which was Wigan Casino. The dancing there was athletic and compet­itive, and it went on all night, and sometimes for entire weekends; then, come Monday, the dancers would return to their jobs on the docks or in the mines.

I loved the idea of combining the three ways of dressing that went into the scene,” Walker explained after her show today. “There was this very working-class thing, with dockworkers’ coats and caps, and then the racerback singlets that were worn for the more athletic dancing. And then,” she added, “there was the super-femininity of some of the women’s looks. They’d turn themselves out in their Sunday best clothes, with these full skirts that really moved on the dance floor.”

Walker updated those refer­ences nicely. A key motif was black vinyl detailing, which added an indus­trial edge to wallpaper floral-print blouses and girly pleated skirts, and gave a graphic touch to Walker’s pop-color coats. There were ultra-feminine “Sunday best” frocks, like a timeless bias-cut chiffon, and two standout pairs of mannish trousers, one high-waisted with a gentle wide-leg silhouette, the other skinny, cropped, and cuffed. The clothes looked easy and modern, and the inspir­ation was never too overt, with the ex­ception of the print Walker derived from the souvenir patches the Northern soul-sters used to collect. That was perhaps a little too on-the-nose, but it was still a nice tip of the hat.

Karen Walker’s AW11 show was her toughest yet. Inspired by working a class dance club in Northern England, Wigan Casino (where the dock workers went to boogie for the weekend), Walker’s peachy aesthetic received a touch of edge. The palette was consid­erably less saturated than most Walker showings, with black, navy, grey, dusty rose, and white as the main colorway, plus added hints of teal, cobalt, orange and red towards the show’s end.

While working class Britain may have been the inspir­ation, this collection radiated with a 90s sensib­ility. The models’ tiny black beanie hats and greased back hair recalled street urchins, and the mix of pretty and punk looked fit for Sassy magazine’s pages. A navy sleeveless jacket over a white tee worn with loose gray pants was remin­iscent of Alexander Wang’s early street wear, mixing comfort with structure. While this collection felt like a departure from Walker’s cute and wallflowery aesthetic, it still had the desirab­ility factor that will make it a hit in stores.